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Lord Tombs: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I have two points to try to restore his address to what I would regard as a semblance of reality. First, of the currently-committed subsidy for wind power, half of that sum is enough to meet the total cost of a nuclear programme to save the same amount of CO2. Secondly, I commend him on his thirty years' late reading, but things have changed quite a lot since 1976.
Lord Redesdale: I thank the noble Lord for his second point. Things have not changed since 1976. I am interested in the debate about what to do with nuclear waste. We are not talking about a solution to nuclear waste; we are not talking about taking nuclear waste and turning it into something safe. We are talking about management of nuclear waste, which is an entirely different thing. It is still very dangerous. If you put it in a hole underground, it is still just as dangerous.
Perhaps I should move on to another aspect of our energy supply. Gas is a fossil fuel. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, mentioned that nuclear should be seen as a renewable. Coal could be seen as renewable, because you could grow a forest and compress it. I do not see how nuclear could ever be a renewable, because it is an element that changes from one form to another. The subsidy regime is why some noble Lords are trying to link renewables and nuclear, and I find that interesting.
Gas is cheap at the moment. However, as has been said in this House, the problem with talking about gas is that no cost has been put on to carbon capture. At the moment, we have gas without cost to the climate. It would be nice to say that we could grow trees to reduce that offset in carbon dioxide, but this is a fossil fuel gas that has been put into the atmosphere and it cannot be dealt with. At an interesting seminar at the Royal Society on carbon capture and storage, it was made clear that there is a real problem with that
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technologyit is not viable in the foreseeable future. So, although we talk about the cost of gas, we neglect to deal with the cost of carbon capture. The issue of carbon capture in relation to coal is interesting, and I very much hope that the Government will invest more in clean coal technology, especially to help the Chinese with brown coal.
I move on to the subject of renewables. Although we talk about a large number of different renewables, the one that we are really talking about is wind. Many noble Lords have said that there are problems with wind. I admit that there are, and that there are problems with the base load that wind could supply. However, I was heartened to see that the regional spatial strategy for the north-east shows that it is possible that the region will meet its Kyoto targets for renewables of about 13 per cent and that its electricity will be supplied by renewables by 2010. On present plans, it is envisaged that by 2020 that figure will rise to 17 per cent, but it would rise to 19 per cent if offshore were included.
So the issue of writing off wind factors as irrelevant, as many noble Lords have done, is, I feel, somewhat unfortunate. One reason that many people do sothis is a political issueis that wind is seen as a competitor with nuclear. I do not believe that that is the case, although the matter has been raised in the past.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, so long as many noble Lords say that it is additional, that is fine, but that argument has been made in the past. It was interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, spoke about nuclear and wind at the same time when I had not mentioned wind.
I shall make my final point because I know that I am running out of time. Many noble Lords will soon be given a first-hand example of the power and potential of wind in the form of the London Array, which, it is hoped, will be built on the Thames estuary. It will consist of 1,000 turbines and will be the largest wind turbine farm in the world. I very much commend the Government and the companies involved in it, including E.ON and Shell, for their foresight in building this major project.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate today. She clarified that the debate was about the early policy decisions required to deal with long-term energy problems. That has been amply shown this afternoon by all the excellent speeches. We have heard so many experts on the subject that I am loath to put in my twopenn'orth, and I hope that the Minister will forgive me.
It is also interesting that, by and large, this has been a non-political debate. We are all well aware that we all bothered by the problems of climate change and security of supply, and it behoves us that we should work together. So I congratulate all those who have spoken today.
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It is perhaps something of a cliché to call this a timely debate, but indeed it isfor two reasons. First, we have heard of the warnings advertised in the press by the National Grid and Ofgem about the danger of gas shortages if the winter is a severe as has been suggested. Secondly, despite the authoritative source of those reports from the National Grid and Ofgem, the Government dismissed them as somewhat "alarmist". Then, a few days later, the energy Minister, Mr Wicks, said that, although consumers would have fuel if that arose, it could affect companies and industry. That was emphasised again this week in a Question in this House.
I remind the Government that their own 2003 energy White Paper and the Energy Act 2004 impose on them an obligation to ensure the security of supply. Over recent years, in addition the the passage of the Energy Act, many debates and questions on that very subject have been raised in this House. The Government's policyor, perhaps, lack of itis hampered by the fact that it is trying to do several, not necessarily compatible, things at once. As long as 15 months ago, your Lordships' Science and Technology Committee, in a renewable energy report, agreed with the identical conclusions of the environment Select Committee in the other place. It said that,
"to pretend that all four goals [of reduction of carbon emissions, enhancement of security of supply, improving business competitiveness and reduction of fuel poverty] can be achieved simultaneously is a cop-out: the Government is not facing up to the real issue . . . some . . . trade-offs will almost certainly have to be made".
The Government's policy is to rely mainly on gas and wind power. That puts us in competition with the equivalent needs of our European neighbours and makes us vulnerable to terrorist attacks. It is important to note that our own gas supplies are running down, and importing has an adverse effect on our already ballooning balance of payments. Perhaps when the Minister replies he can tell us what steps the Government are taking to increase our storage capacity from 11 days to the EU average of 52.
Another major string to the Government's fuel supply, of course, is wind power. In the Government's eyes, wind power kills two birds with one stone. On the one hand, it provides power from a renewable source; on the other it helps us to meet our CO2 reduction obligations. However, we must think about whether the ecological benefits of this power are counterbalanced by many environmental disadvantages. Offshore wind farms, while having advantages of scale and potentially higher output than those on land, are more difficult and expensive to install and maintain. They can be a hazard to shipping, fish, birds and seals.
Onshore wind farms also have major disadvantages, in that they are intrusive and noisy. Currently, Mr Wicks's department within the DTI has overridden planning procedures in two county councils, two district councils, 12 parish councils, English Nature, the RSPB and other agencies to permit 26 370-ft turbines to be built on Romney
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Marsh. They will be visible for 20 miles and, apart from the cables, six and half miles of new roads will have to be built.
Wind power is a far from reliable source of power. I would like to tell the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that I am not knocking it. I am simply putting it in the context of the whole basket. The simple point is that wind does not blow all the time, whether in exposed beauty spots around the country or off the North Sea coast. Even if the countryside were virtually covered from top to bottom, they would work at only about a third of their potential capacity. That means that they need back-up from more conventional power stations. That is the experience of both Germany and Denmark. It cancels out, in part, the reduction of our CO2 reduction emissions, which the Government keep talking about and which we want to happen. It has to be borne in mind, however, that it is a total package.
Every one of your Lordships who has had to fill his or her car with petrol knows only too well how oil prices have rocketed; equally so for all transport operators, who in the end pass the cost on to the customer; equally so for those who are dependent on oil for fuel, to run generators or for simple heating. Demand is currently rising in the United States, not merely seasonally, but because of their strengthening economy and everybody's love affair with gas-guzzling vehiclesI hope none of your Lordships have them, or you are going to be cross with me.
China's requirements have risen by 20 per cent in just one year. China's current 21 million vehicles are set to increase to a staggering 390 million within the next 25 years. Then there is India, as well as the emerging third world countries. Oil companies are maintaining low strategic oil stocks for economic reasons, which makes the market vulnerable to events such as the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico or unrest in the Middle East and elsewhere, to say nothing of the chaos in the market caused by an ongoing struggle between the Russian government and its major oil company. We have also seen oil used as a political weapon in the Middle East. It is so used today by terrorists, even disrupting supplies from Iraq.
The IMF has projected that worldwide oil consumption will increase from the current 82 million barrels a day to almost 140 million by 2040. An IMF economist forecasts an oil price of up to $56 a barrel. There are also plenty of commodity speculators and hedge funds out there, whose gambling with oil futures is distorting the market. We cannot leave our fuel supplies linked so strongly to yet another commodityoilover which we in this country do not have control.
There is also coal. The problem with coal, of course, is the emissions. Useful as it clearly is, and will be for some time, one has to realise that. For the future, however, modern clean coal technology makes our own coalor imported, less sulphurous typesmore economic and environmentally sound. The technology for clean coal available in this country is urgently needed by China and would, in itself, be an excellent currency earner. I do not see anything in the
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Government's policy to encourage that. On the contrary, the carbon taxthe climate change levyis a distinct disincentive.
On wave power, the technology is being developed, but with woefully scant subsidy from the Government. I find it paradoxical that the DTI's website disparages wave power on the grounds of noise, impact on shipping, visual impact and so on when those are the very same disadvantages it ignores when pushing offshore wind farms.
The report of your Lordships' committee on energy efficiency berates the Government's position on energy efficiency as being muddled and inconsistent. What steps have the Government taken in the past 15 months to implement the committee's recommendations on measuring the contribution that energy efficiency makes towards us meeting our emission targets?
I want to turn nuclear power, a subject mentioned today and during previous years by many noble Lords. The Government cannot keep ducking the issue. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that it is no good saying that we should not ask for a quick answer because we have already been waiting and waiting. But so that he should not be too cross with me, I congratulate him on his new position at the Combined Heat and Power Association. There is a sizeable cross-party group of PeersI could mention the noble Lords, Lord Jenkin of Roding, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, Lord Ezra, Lord Tomlinson and Lord Tombswho are to be commended for their persistence in continuing to raise this matter.
With respect, no prospective generator will stick its head over the parapet and propose to build a new power station without knowing in advance, and before spending a fortune on preliminary professional fees and land acquisition, that the project will have the wholehearted, unequivocal support of the Government. And not just support, but active encouragement. In an article in this month's Business Voice, all that the Secretary of State for the Environment could do was to repeat the stale mantra that all options, including nuclear, should be kept open. I have a simple question to ask and all I want to know is whether the answer is "yes" or "no". It is important that we short these things out now.
First, I ask noble Lords to forgive me for not having mentioned all today's contributions. I know I have 20 minutes, but I do not want to bore everyone. All the contributions have been valuable, especially those of the two maiden speakers. I particularly liked the emphasis placed by the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer of Leeds, on the basket of different things. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, that we do not want to throw anything out; we just want to keep what we have and encourage people to do more of the same.
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The question to which we want an answer is: do the Government want new nuclear power stations built just before our present ones run out of steam? If the answer is "yes", will the Minister remember that he also told me that it takes from 10 to 15 years from the decision to build to the time when generation can begin? How much of our power resources must we lose before the present stations are to be replaced? And if they are not replaced by nuclear, by what will they be replaced, and at what cost to the environment and the economy?
My noble friend Lord Attlee dealt most adequately with the problem of nuclear waste. The noble Lord, Lord Tombs, was right to tell us there is waste alreadyold waste. But the Government should not use that as an excuse not to go nuclear in future. Doing so will cause far less waste and we have to make a decision on the old waste anyway. That needs to be considered.
I shall conclude in a moment or two, but I want to say that I had a letter from my namesake, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. She was called away and cannot be here for the end of the debate. Because she is not here, I want to say one thing which I would be embarrassed to say if she were. I know that many noble Lords do not agree with parts of what she said. One of the beauties of this House is that we can all say what we want to say. The noble Baroness believes it all so passionately and we should give credit for that.
Time does not permit me to mention, except in passing, other essential elements in our fuel suppliescombined heat and power, biofuel, microgeneration and biomass, referred to so expertly by my noble friend. The fact is that in every aspect we have been discussing, the Government's love affair with wind and gas seems to exclude everything else from immediate decisions.
I shall conclude by paraphrasing our position, which was set out next door in an Early Day Motion by my colleagues. The truth is that they cannot discuss it down there. But, I thought I would paraphrase the Motion so that noble Lords know the problems we have with not getting anywhere. We are concerned about the security of supply for electricity in the medium term, about the failure of the Government to reduce CO2 emissions, and that the United Kingdom's indigenous oil and gas supplies are running down and that by next year we will be a net importer of gas. We believe that any increase in the use of coal-fired generation in its present form will have significant environmental consequences.
We are concerned that the renewable target for this year is not being met and we are concerned that the decommissioning of nuclear power stations, commencing in 2008, will give rise to significant shortfalls in our electricity supplies. So, we call on the Government to make a decision shortly on the future role of nuclear power and set out a timetable for action that will reconcile economic and environmental objectives. That is not too much to ask. I thank everyone for listening.
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